Nigeria: A Divided Nation In Denial Of Its Fragility
I begin this essay by quoting these famous words by Shakespeare, “Even though the heavens fall, let the truth be told and let justice be done. Let me also take the liberty of also quoting Plato, a renowned Greek philosopher who once said, “No man is more hated than those who speak the truth”. The truth about the nation of Nigeria today is that it is fast heading to be a failed state, hanging on the precipice with the risk of disintegration just like Russia and the old Yugoslovakia.
As expected many Nigerians will disagree with me and many more will rain abuses and insults especially on social media but the truth remains the truth. To our ex-Presidents, past and present political leaders etc who choose to be indifferent in the face of all the recent threats to Nigeria’ unity and nationhood, I wish to remind them of the words of Elle Wiesel, who was once quoted as saying, “The greatest sin in the world is indifference,’ To the uninformed, brainwashed and ignorant of the realities of present day Nigeria, I feel genuine sorrow.
That said, I have in most of my essays in the past, pontificated on topics I think are important, some of which I have little experience of, but never have I had any self- doubt about the reality of Nigeria’s disunity, its illusion of national unity, its ethnic division and increasing fault lines, inherent tribal distrusts and hatred, its increasing fragility and potential breakup if nothing is done and fast too. Whether we as Nigerians accept these truths or not, the facts starring us in the face is that most Nigerians and especially its leadership, political elites and indeed the many uninformed folks is that they are yet to come to grips with the country’s ethnic problems and the fact that things have gotten worse in the past 15 months.
Be that as it may, it is probably not so much that a majority of Nigerians are unaware of the fragility of our continued national existence as one nation, but rather the fact that they are more preoccupied with their struggles for survival and to put food on the table than to worry about the country’s potential disintegration. They are hungry and angry and afraid of being left behind.
For them it is the anxiety of wages that don’t rise with expenses. It’s the unease at least in some parts resulting from the lingering violence unleashed by herdsmen, militants and religious zealots, not knowing when it will be their turn to experience the hate. It is the seeming indifference of the federal government to these violent happenings, the inability or reluctance of the police to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators. It is the feeling of marginalization in some parts of the country and their lack of representation in the present administration.
It is the feeling most young people know that they have done everything right but are stuck with joblessness, hopelessness and the existence of few job prospects. It’s the feeling that the political system is rigged and our politics broken. It’s the aspirations of a better life that stoke and underlies their anger but when they look around they don’t see any prospects for a better future and finally it is the feeling that their leaders are visionless, incompetent and devoid of the abilities and capacities to turn things around.
These are indeed perilous times in Nigeria, with the economy faltering and probably already in recession. Foreign investors fleeing, banks closing, International and local airlines closing shop and laying off thousands of workers with at least an estimated 5 million Nigerians losing their jobs in the last one year. All over the country there is increasing resentment by Nigerians of others.
While the Igbo’s in the South East who did not vote for the President feel left out of his administration and expectedly resent him, the Yoruba’s are divided in their support and the North not only enthusiastic in their support but revere him. As expected, the Moslem North and the Yoruba’s resent the Igbo’s for clamoring for Biafra and have given their agitation a new name “Biafraud’.
The Igbo’s on their part not only distrusts the Yoruba’s and are quick to cite past acts of betrayal by the Yoruba’s as reasons for their distrusts, not to talk about the recent Igbo dominated market closings in Lagos and the not too recent expulsion of their folks vis-a-vis the hateful comments by the Oba of lagos. For the Northerners, it is the fear of Igbo economic progress in the north and the Christian religion, resulting in the burning down of the Sabon Gari market in kano , extra judicial killings and the burning down of Christian churches, the most recent in Niger state.
For the South South, it is the emergence of the Delta Avengers, a militant group bent on destroying oil installations in their area in protest against the exploitation of their natural resources, the destruction of their rivers, their environment and the lack of adequate compensation and marginalization. For the north it is their hatred for ex- President Jonathan, a Christian from the South South, who they claim did not do enough to stem the violence by Boko Haram. The list of grievances from every group, too many to mention here has no doubt fueled the present state of disunity in the country.
There is a popular saying that, “ the fish rots from the head’. The question is, what role if any has the President, the National Assembly, Political leaders and past administrations played in the country’s present state of national disunity? The answer is that, they have all been culpable in one way or the other. For the president, it is the nepotism and the lopsided appointments in favor of one section of the country and the allocation of all top security positions not only to his fellow northerners but to his fellow Muslims.
It is his perceived indifference to the killings by marauding herdsmen causing Governor Fayose of Ogun state to sign a law restricting their movement and the carrying of weapons. An action that many other states may consider copying. It is the President’s inability to resolve the Delta crisis, his continued detention of Nnamdi kanu , his complicity in the attempt to remove Senator Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate leader, the forced retirement of 200 Igbo army officers and what some perceive as his selective fight against corruption. Again, it is his registration of Nigeria, a secular country with the Islamic Coalition Against Terrorism led by Saudi Arabia and more recently the growing feeling by many Nigerians including some in the North , such as Alhaji Yerima , a leader of AREWA, the chairman of the APC in one of the Northern states, Junaid Mohammed and Balarabe Musa , just to mention a few, that he has failed to actualize his change agenda.
For the National Assembly, it is not only the attempt to remove Senator Ekweremadu, but also the attempt to pass not only a grazing bill which will allow to federal Government to seize pieces of land privately owned by Nigerians mainly from the south but also a Sharia law, despite wide spread opposition from Southern Senators and people from the South. While all the former Presidents and former Heads of State are guilty of the failure of righting some of the wrongs in the country and bringing the nation together, our Governors on their part have not helped with their comments and political rhetoric.
Let’s take for instance the comments and effort of Governor El Rufai of kaduna State regarding his restrictive religious bill which goes as far as preventing people from listening to Christian broadcasts on their car radios. The consequences of all these is the venom and abuses you read on social media , especially on Facebook by ordinary Nigerians of all ethnic groups against one another when issues of national concern are mentioned . It is the recent clamor by some Igbo leaders, calling on Igbo businessmen in other parts of the country to relocate to the South East as a way of protecting their lives. It is the recent fight between Yoruba’s and Hausa’s recently in a section of lagos during which three people lost their lives. It is of course the emergence of IPOB and calls by some in the west for an Oduduwa nation if the Igbo’s should leave. It is the fight by Boko Haram in their effort to create an Islamic state.
As I end this essay, my unsolicited advice to the present administration is that they not only do everything possible and within their powers to ameliorate the sufferings of Nigerians but build bridges between the various ethnic groups and the Government as well as desist from the daily and constant blaming of the past administration for everything that is wrong wth the country and concentrate on fixing the economy. In doing so, I urge them to listen to the words of Socrates who once said and I quote, “the secret of change is to focus all your energy , not on fighting the old but on building the new”. Also relevant are the words of Churchill who was once quoted as saying, “You cannot reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks”. The president in my opinion must feel discontent, hence discontent is the first sign of progress. Every effective and transformative leader must feel the pang of discontent every morning he wakes up. That feeling of having not done enough. That feeling that there’s more to be done. That realization that I can’t be and will never be satisfied by the way things are.
What Nigerians need from their leaders is empathy compassion and understanding. They want their leaders to confront the complexities in the country and get things done. They want a leader who brings the people together and finds a common purpose and solutions to their problems and the ethnic disunity in the country. The truth is that today in Nigeria, there is a cultural divide that exists that needs to be bridged and the need for a leadership to do it. Be that as it may, it is wrong to blame the President for most of the ethnic problems in the country since we as citizens are guilty as hell and complicit in our present and worsening disunity.
The reality is that we have no patriots anymore. Patriotism absolutely does not exist in Nigeria today and never did, even for the few who profess it, because to them, patriotism is really an amalgam of nativism, ethnicity, isolationism and xenophobia. As the 18th century writer Samuel Johnson who once described ‘patriotism as the first refuge of a scoundrel”, it is a convenient cloak for political narcissists, but not so well that you can’t see through it. So when some Nigerians oppose restructuring and swear to fight to keep Nigeria together, don’t be fooled , because the only thing that holds Nigeria together for now is the Oil. Without it, and if oil is hopefully found in the Lake Chad region it is to your tents oh Israel unless something quick is done to alleviate the fears of different sections of the country as well as a sustained effort to unite the country both in words and deeds.
Nnanna Ijomah. A former Special Assistant to the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu is a Political Science lecturer resident in New York.